Rosemary Morton is a Filipina photographer and nurse based in Baltimore, Maryland. As a National Geographic Explorer along with the We Women artist, she creates visual stories that are focused on human connections and resilience in the areas of healing from trauma and preservation of culture as well as health outcomes. She also writes to NPR, The Washington Post, Reuters, The New York Times, and CNN.

As part of Photographers Without Borders (PWB) ongoing “Storytelling for Change” webinar series, Rosem joined PWB Founder Danielle Da Silva to discuss the unique experiences of a nurse and photographer during COVID-19. They also discussed the importance of keeping safe and observing the safety guidelines that are in place, the ethics of journalism, and the importance of telling stories.

Da Silva: You’re in a unique position to be an RN and a photographer. What does the future look like for you this time around COVID-19.

Morton Working as a nursing assistant during COVID-19 provided me with many good perspectives, particularly in the area of safety, as well as what stories are essential and what stories are being forgotten and require telling. It’s a fascinating moment but also very emotionally draining.

Da Silva: You posted an article in the Washington Post article on April 3rd, 20,20. The article was titled: Americans want to see what’s happening at hospitals. It’s a challenge for journalists to go into the hospital. A few comments suggested that’s one reason people need to be convinced of the seriousness of the issue. You mentioned in the article that you believe “journalists can convey stories in a way that doctors and nurses just can’t always manage.” Can you expand on that? Are you still feeling like that?

Morton, There is a conflict in certain aspects. Journalists are vital, especially in this moment and in vulnerable areas. However, at the same time, there’s a huge security issue. They also have quoted me as saying that this isn’t warfare photography, in which you’re simply taking care of yourself. It’s a case of an infection. You need to take responsibility for yourself. You’re responsible for everyone around you, each when you complete an assignment and every when you leave. Therefore, it’s an assessment of risk based on a case-by-case.

When I consider assignments, I think about what I bring to the story. What’s the general theme? Do I have something to add? If I’m not providing anything novel, is it safe? Does it warrant the risk? What am I passionate about the story now, and is it worth telling?

I have mixed feelings about people who are encased in hospitals. However, it is essential, in the same way healthcare professionals do not possess PPE. The PPE they have should be appropriately distributed. If you’re currently in this acute stage in the hospital, there’s no need to take the time to seek permission. It’s quite a hassle.

Sometimes, I need clarification on how they manage to do that. In my experience in the hospital, there are no patients, so the hospital appears empty. But it’s certainly still full. I’ve discovered different themes, as HIPAA laws are tough to understand.

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